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Nevada State Railroad Museum full steam ahead to expand visitors center

CARSON CITY — The Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City got the green light Tuesday to begin planning an expansion of its visitors center with funding approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

Lawmakers approved the transfer of $469,000 from the Department of Tourism to the museum to fund the development of construction documents for a proposed 6,000-square-foot building.

Peter Barton, administrator of the Division of Museums and History, said with upgraded facilities, officials envision the railroad to be a major tourist draw with eventual expansion connecting Boulder City to Henderson and perhaps Las Vegas someday.

The Boulder Branch railroad line was completed in 1931 to supply materials during construction of Hoover Dam. Union Pacific Railroad abandoned the Boulder City-Henderson segment of the line in 1985 and donated the land and track to the state for the railroad museum.

Existing passenger facilities were completed in 2001, but the museum store has a sales area of less than 100 square feet, and there are no facilities for visitors to seek shelter from the weather.

Still, officials said ridership has grown from 1,600 in 2001 to more than 43,000 in 2013. The train operates on weekends along a 3.5-mile track to Railroad Pass.

But officials said with the completion of the Interstate 11 project anticipated late next year, the railroad line that was severed decades ago at Railroad Pass will be restored, making longer rides into Henderson and Las Vegas possible.

“With a 2-million-plus resident market and a transient market of 42 million visitors annually, along with the lack of competition for a similar experience within 150 miles, the museum’s growth will continue, making it an anchor in community efforts to attract tourists,” the agency said in background documents submitted to the committee.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, supported the proposal and said backers make a “compelling case” for funding.

But not all committee members were in favor. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said the money requested would be better spent on maintenance projects that were deferred during the recession.

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, was concerned over the uncertainty of long-term funding.

But Barton and Larry Bender with the Boulder City Economic Vitality Commission said the local government has been working with the community on sustainability goals and partnerships.

Funding for the work was part of $1.3 million the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs requested for five projects that also include money for the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, design work for expanded museum storage space, and the Nevada Arts Council.

The projects were approved in one vote, with five members opposed.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find @SandraChereb on Twitter

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